Joseph Miller, an adjunct professor at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and a former vice president and general manager at TRW Applied Technology Group, died on July 5 in a bicycling accident. He was 70.
By Matthew Chin
Miller was a triple graduate of UCLA Engineering, earning bachelor’s, masters and PhD degrees (’57, ’58 and ’62). He had a distinguished career in spaceflight engineering, in high-energy laser research and as an executive at TRW. He returned to the School in 1997 where he taught an undergraduate course on engineering design.
In the 1960s, Miller was the chief development engineer for the Lunar Module Descent Engine. This powered the Apollo Lunar Excursion Modules as they descended to deliver the first humans to the Moon’s surface.
From 1971 to 1980, Miller served as the chief engineer and program director for TRW’s high-energy laser projects. He would later become vice president and general manager for TRW’s Applied Technology Group.
In 1991, Miller was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the highest professional honor for an American engineer, for his contributions to advanced high-power lasers and optical systems.
After he retired from TRW, Miller joined UCLA in 1997 as an adjunct professor, teaching a course he designed titled, “The Art of Engineering Endeavors.” In this class, Miller covered the essence of engineering design, along with the moral, ethical and environmental aspects of engineering design and management. He also emphasized that great engineering accomplishments were the direct results of great collaboration. He taught the course twice a year until his death.
In his eulogy address, Gershon Weltman, who teaches a companion engineering ethics course at UCLA, described Miller as a “consummate engineer” and an “engineer’s engineer.”
“Joe stressed that perhaps contrary to expectations, engineering is a social discipline,” Weltman said of his longtime friend. “It is social in its process and also in its purpose and effect on society. Joe taught that engineering is social in its process because it depends basically on teamwork. Joe talked with feeling on the formation of effective teams, on the skills of team management and leadership, on team ethics and on the need to know one’s own self in order to survive and understand others.”
Miller’s practical and thoughtful approach to engineering earned him much praise from his students as well. In a course review, one student wrote that Miller’s class was “one of the most valuable and insightful engineering courses,” and that it was “taught by an intelligent, visionary and caring professor.”
Outside of engineering, Miller was an accomplished violinist and was the concertmaster of the Pacific Palisades Symphony. He was also a cycling enthusiast. Before his death, Miller was training for a 100-mile charity bike ride to benefit the ALS Association Greater Bay Area Chapter.
Miller is survived by his wife Judith, daughters Elizabeth and Mona, son David, and five grandchildren, all from the San Francisco Bay area. In addition, he is survived by his mother Ida Major and three siblings.
In lieu of flowers, the Miller family requests that donations be made to the ALS Association Greater Bay Area Chapter.